Are we back in the 1970s? Reaves vs. Wilson creates a buzz
Time will tell whether the New York Rangers’ strategy of becoming tougher to play against will result in more wins. But we know already that it has created a buzz.
Nobody is asking me whether Ryan Suter is a good fit in Dallas or whether Dougie Hamilton will bring about enough improvement for the Devils to push them into the playoffs.
But over the last seven days, since the Rangers added Ryan Reaves to their stable of toughness, a bunch of fans have asked me to handicap a Reaves vs. Tom Wilson heavyweight bout.
Have I transported back to the 1970s?
Fighting doesn’t play nearly the role it once did in the NHL, but fans do still enjoy the drama that accompanies the occasional high-profile scrap.
Throughout the summer, I spent time explaining to folks that the Rangers weren’t bringing in fighters as much as they were adding players who are hard to play against and will make life miserable for opponents who take liberties.
Being harder to play against is important in building a contending team. That was the last piece of the puzzle for the Lightning. Acquiring Goodrow, Blake Coleman and Patrick Maroon had an impact. It shouldn't be about fighting.
But when you add a noted fighter, that draws the most attention and adds some theatrics.
When the Rangers added Reaves, it was the same as announcing that there will be a fight between Reaves and Wilson on Oct. 13 in Washington.
The Rangers’ opener is against the Capitals. Coincidence I'm sure. Or, someone has a sense for good theater. In case you weren’t paying attention to the Capitals-Rangers drama last season, Capitals rough and tumble forward Tom Wilson, known for his roughhouse style, slammed Artemi Panarin to the ice during a game
The Rangers didn’t respond.
This was the last straw. The Rangers had showed themselves to be a soft team all season, and after watching that sad exhibition, owner James Dolan made it clear that he wanted a team that stood up for itself. Team president John Davidson and general manager Jeff Gorton were out. Chris Drury and tougher hockey were in.
The Rangers brought in hard-nosed forward Barclay Goodrow, Sammy Blais, not thugs by any means, but guys who are difficult to play against. They also brought in Jarred Tinordi who is a fighter and Patrik Nemeth who is a big, strapping defenseman.
The final piece was Reaves who is an intimidating fighter.
Now, Oct. 13 is circled on the schedule. It really does feel like the 1970s when retribution and revenge were regularly scheduled events. Fights were discussed in the game preview.
According hockeyfights.com, Reaves and Wilson have fought twice before, but have not battled since 2014-15. According to the website, 37.5% of voters thought Wilson won a bout in 2013-14 and 90% believed Reaves won their bout in 2014-15.
It’s been six years since they have fought. Who will win now? How will it unfold? Will it be at the start of the game? Will they fight more than once? Will they fight again at Madison Square Garden? Will this be settled after one fight?
These are all questions that will be discussed on social media over the next couple of months. These discussions will be accompanied by anger, cursing, funny memes, sarcasm, name calling, untruths, hurtful comments and childish, boorish behavior.
In case you’ve forgotten what these scheduled fights are like, the buildup and debate can be as hostile as the battle. Even people who don't like fighting still seem to like reading about them.